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ALA conference panel explores resources for digital inclusion

Guest Blogger Rebeccah Baker served as the Student-to-Staff Program participant for the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) at the 2016 ALA Annual Conference. Rebeccah completed her M.L.S. at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies in May 2016.

“Half of American families that earn less than $25,000 annually are not connected to the internet,” said Larra Clark, deputy director of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP), who moderated the session “Addressing Digital Disconnect for Low-Income Americans” at the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. This OITP session focused on the collaborative efforts among libraries, government agencies, and nonprofits to connect disadvantaged Americans to the digital world. From the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development’s (HUD) ConnectHome effort and nonprofit EveryoneOn initiative, to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline Program, ALA and libraries are actively playing leadership roles in connecting low-income Americans online.

Veronica Creech, chief programs officer of the Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit EveryoneOn introduced the organization and its partnership with the White House initiative to close the digital divide and support both the ConnectHome and ConnectEd initiatives. EveryoneOn partners with local internet service providers to offer free or $9.95 home internet service in 48 states and the District of Columbia. The organization also works with device refurbishers to facilitate the purchase of discounted computers, and collaborates with libraries to advertise free digital literacy training. EveryoneOn has helped over 200,000 households connect to the internet and hopes to connect an additional 350,000 households by the year 2020. The organization’s platform aggregates location-specific results for discount internet offers, device providers, and digital literacy centers.

Fiber cables.
From frankieleon, via Flickr.

Felton Thomas, director of the Cleveland Public Library and president-elect of the Public Library Association (PLA), shared how the public libraries in Cleveland, one of 28 communities participating in the ConnectHome pilot, are expanding digital opportunities for individuals in HUD housing. The Cleveland ConnectHome program provides internet access hotspots to 350 children who both live in HUD housing and participate in after-school programs. The library staff train the students and their parents how to use the hotspots, navigate the internet, and understand the importance of internet safety.

With the success of the pilot program, there are hopes that the ConnectHome project will scale to connect HUD households in the rest of the country. The one-year anniversary of the program takes place July 15, 2016, so stay tuned for more news.

Lauren Wilson, legal advisor to the Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau at the FCC, discussed the Lifeline Program’s expansion to broadband as a result of a vote for the Lifeline Modernization Order in March. Beginning December 1, 2016, Lifeline will support broadband services by giving individuals $9.25 per month and $25 more on tribal lands. Individuals eligible for benefit programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance, Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit Programs, Tribal-specific programs, and those with an income at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines are eligible.

Public libraries serve their communities by providing a trusted non-judgmental space where individuals can access information through library services such as no-fee public access to the internet, digital collections, and training. This position gives these libraries the opportunity to actively play leadership roles in connecting low-income Americans to the internet. By assisting patrons with digital literacy training and promoting awareness of programs such as ConnectHome, ConnectEd, EveryoneOn, and Lifeline, we can help ensure that these programs will be successful in bringing millions more Americans online.

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Larra Clark

Larra Clark is the deputy director of both the Public Library Association and Washington Office’s public policy team. Larra received her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Arizona and has a M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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